ICLU members are real patriots What kind of American are you?” Once I moved from the pages of NUVO over to my role as the new executive director of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, I quickly grew accustomed to occasional bouts of widespread unpopularity. Controversy comes with the job description, of course, because our mission to protect the Bill of Rights leads the ICLU to defend those who are at risk of being trampled by a tyranny of the majority.
When we stand up for Hoosiers with dissenting political or religious views, or when we stand up to protect those whose poverty or illness leaves them without political power, ICLU confronts the awesome power of government.
And when we oppose the president or the governor or the General Assembly, my phone rings and my e-mail in-box fills up with angry Hoosiers asking me variants of the same question: “What kind of American are you?” It is a question that seems to be asked more often at times like these, when our country is at war. For dissenters and their defenders, our patriotism is at issue.
Well, at the ICLU, we have an answer to that question.
We are patriots. Patriots think all Americans should be free to express their dissent from the foreign policy pursued by the president, even during wartime. Patriots think we should preserve our precious rights to freedom and privacy, even in times of real or perceived national emergency. Patriots think international agreements like the Geneva Convention are to be honored, even if they seem temporarily inconvenient to our short-term interests.
Real patriots stand up in the face of popular opinion. At the ICLU, we are the kind of Americans who care enough about this country to ask it to change, and optimistic enough about this country to think it will. We are optimistic about the country in part because of the principles of the Bill of Rights that define us as a free people.
What kind of Americans are we? We are the kind of Americans who believe in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of speech, to peaceable assembly and to petition the government for redress. So we are proud that the ICLU is going to court with an Evansville man, who was actually arrested and thrown in jail simply for holding a protest sign outside an appearance by Vice President Cheney.
We are the kind of Americans who believe in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which protects us from unreasonable search and seizure. So we are proud that the ICLU is representing young peace activists who seek justice after their home and meeting place were searched by Indianapolis police officials, without a warrant, in the course of a multi-day attempt to intimidate and suppress protests at last summer’s meeting of the National Governor’s Association.
We are the kind of Americans who believe in the Fifth Amendment right to due process of law, and the Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel. So we are proud that the ACLU has supported the Supreme Court challenges to President Bush unilaterally deciding he could hold U.S. citizens in an indefinite legal limbo called “unlawful combatant” status without charges or right to trial, and detain hundreds of people in Guantanamo Bay without charges, formal rights or access to lawyers.
We are the kind of Americans who believe in the principle articulated in the Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. So we are proud that the ACLU has filed suit against the Bush Administration for unlawfully denying requests for information and suppressing evidence of the abuses we now know occurred in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
We are the kind of Americans who believe in the 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the laws. So we are proud that the ICLU has stood up in opposition to the post-Sept. 11 racial profiling that caused the rounding up of hundreds of Muslim men, jailing them without charges and then deporting most of them. Several people from Evansville, Ind., including U.S. citizens, were among those swept up in the discriminatory raids.
There is a joke going around that there are three good reasons why Iraq, in the process of recreating its government, should just copy the U.S. Constitution. Reason No. 1 is that the document was written by some very wise people. Reason No. 2 is that the document has served the U.S. well for over 200 years. And reason No. 3 is that the Iraqis might as well have our Constitution, since the current administration doesn’t use it anymore anyway.
That’s a good joke, but not true. At least not if we at the ICLU can help it.
Because we are the kind of Americans who will go out behind John Ashcroft’s office, dig through the dumpster and retrieve the battered and soiled Bill of Rights. And when we retrieve it, we will hold it high as we use it to restore the country as the free and just nation it was designed to be.
Fran Quigley is the executive director if the Indiana Civil Liberties Union, www.iclu.org.